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Previewing Cal MBB vs. San Diego State

The Aztecs are hoping to avenge a loss to the Bears last season.

NCAA Basketball: California at San Diego State
Justice Sueing looks to go 2-0 against San Diego State in his Cal career.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The 2-5 California Golden Bears men’s basketball team is looking to right the ship on Saturday night, but the road doesn’t get much easier. The 5-3 San Diego State Aztecs have thus far enjoyed less success than Cal’s last opponent San Francisco, who went to 8-1 after defeating Cal by a score of 79-60 on Wednesday. Nevertheless, it was a big upset when Cal went into Viejas Arena last December and emerged with a victory. I happened to be live tweeting from the CGB account at the time, and that was a glorious day.

Center Malik Pope, former Cal big man Kameron Rooks, and guard Trey Kell are longer on the SDSU squad, so this team is a bit less deep than when they made the NCAA Tournament last season. Nevertheless, head coach Brian Dutcher still has some weapons at his disposal. Unfortunately for him, Nevada is very likely to seize the automatic bid in the Mountain West Conference this time around. To make matters worse, on Wednesday the Aztecs lost to crosstown rival San Diego at home (by a score of 73-61) for the first time since 2000.

San Diego State

Projected lineup

#42 Jeremy Hemsley - 6’3” Sr G - 10.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.1 apg

Hemsley is this team’s veteran leader, a steady if unspectacular force. He seemed to be on the rise as a three-point shooter as a sophomore but hasn’t shown the same range since.

#0 Devin Watson - 6’1” Sr G - 16.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.5 apg

Watson played his first two seasons at USF and has kept up his strong play down the coast. He’s off to a great start, shooting 42% behind the arc while making opponents respect his defensive ability.

#20 Jordan Schakel - 6’6” So G - 8.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.0 apg

Schakel has been kind of an enigma, scoring in double digits some nights while totaling just 5 points over his past pair of contests due to fouling out in both. Schakel is adjusting to a bigger role and his rebounding contributions are welcome.

#5 Jalen McDaniels - 6’10” So F - 14.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.4 apg

McDaniels hasn’t duplicated his 58% field goal shooting from last season but his size is an asset for the Aztecs. Nevertheless, McDaniels would be better served if he cut down on long-distance attempts.

#11 Matt Mitchell - 6’6” So F - 12.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.9 apg

Mitchell has done a great job getting to the free-throw line and he’s not afraid to set up a teammate either.

Key reserves

#3 Aguek Arop - 6’6” Fr F - 1.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.6 apg

The newcomer from Omaha can clean the glass, but his only points of the last four games came against Illinois State.

#31 Nathan Mensah - 6’10” Fr F - 3.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.5 apg

Mensah, who grew up in Ghana before playing high school ball in the states, is performing well in limited minutes. He has blocked a shot in all but one game.

#2 Adam Seiko - 6’3” Fr G - 2.3 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 0.5 apg

Dutcher doesn’t use many bench guards except in blowouts, and that’s how Seiko racked up a trio of assists in the 87-44 win over Jackson State.

#24 Nolan Narain - 6’10” Jr F - 3.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.6 apg

Narain was more involved in the early going, grabbing 19 points in two lopsided games. The Canadian forward was an important part of the November 20 victory against Xavier.

#35 Joel Mensah - 6’10” Fr F - 1.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg

Joel Mensah also lived in Ghana before attending high school at JSerra Catholic in Orange County. He’s friendly with Nathan but is not a relative.

Winning strategies

1. Overcome the size disparity.

Partly due to the departures of Kingsley Okoroh and Marcus Lee, the Bears are undersized. Cal ranks very low when it comes to offensive and defensive rebounding. However, there are areas where small lineups can excel. For instance, Cal is 22nd in the country in terms of three-point percentage and their 8% steal percentage is pretty decent. The current team also shoots free throws much better than last season’s model. These areas are likely to determine whether the Bears get back in the win column.

2. Keep it up, Kelly.

Paris Austin was fairly quiet against the Dons and Justice Sueing had an off night, but Andre Kelly is showing a lot of promise as a freshman. He led the team with 17 points and 9 rebounds on Wednesday and even drilled a three. Kelly’s performance will be key especially facing bigger Aztecs like McDaniels.

3. Avoid careless fouls.

Based on the underlying numbers, SDSU plays fairly solid offense and defense. Perhaps the team’s biggest strength is getting to the charity stripe. Wyking Jones doesn’t use his bench extensively, so it will be imperative to avoid foul trouble, not to mention giving the Aztecs free points.

4. Order takeaways.

I mentioned turnover percentage earlier and San Diego State has struggled in that department, checking in at 19.4%. That’s barely within the top 200 nationwide. Grabbing steals and playing overall tenacious defense could help the Bears win a potentially close game.

Meaningless Prediction: San Diego State 68, Cal 64

Ken Pomeroy gives Cal a 38% chance of victory at Haas Pavilion, but even his score prediction leaves just three points between the teams.

This game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks/Pac-12 Bay Area on Saturday, December 8 at 7:30 PM PT. The KGO 810 AM stream is available on TuneIn radio.

Go Bears!